Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Aubrey Huff, 2008 Upper Deck #180

Before I take a look back at 2008, I'd like to take a closer look at this card. First of all, we can see Brian Roberts and the second base umpire gazing up to the sky to track the looping pop-up that Aubrey Huff is chasing. We can also see the out-of-town scoreboard on the outfield fence. It's flashing the progress of what was certainly a white-knuckle thriller between the Mets and the Nationals, with Jason Bergmann and David Wright facing off. Using that information, let's see if we can find out where the O's were playing and what game provided the backdrop for this photo. Why? Because I'm curious.

We can probably assume that the photo was taken in 2007, Aubrey's first year with the Birds. Checking Jason Bergmann's gamelog from last year, we see that his only start at home against the Mets was Sunday, April 29. It was indeed a day game, so that part seems to check out. Jose Reyes led off the game with a single, bringing David Wright to the plate in a scoreless game. So the line score seems right.

But what were the O's up to on that Sunday afternoon? Let's check the team's schedule/results. They were at Cleveland for a 1:05 game, and Aubrey Huff started at first base. I thought the outfield fence looked like Jacobs Field*, but I couldn't be sure. Sadly, this was not a good game for the Birds. Orioles great Jaret Wright gave up two runs in the first inning, temporarily getting out of further trouble by inducing Johnny Peralta to pop out to Huff in foul territory (hey!). He was gone by the fourth, however, and Fausto Carmona and the Tribe breezed to a 6-1 victory. The lone Baltimore run came on an Aubrey Huff solo home run in the ninth inning.

I guess if you were going to focus on any Orioles player in this game, it might as well have been Aubrey Huff. Happy New Year, everyone!

*I made an editorial decision not to use its corporate name. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paul Blair, 2002 Topps Super Teams #108

One of the things baseball card companies have done right in recent years (and yes, they actually have done a few things right) is to pay more attention to retired players. It's a great opportunity for collectors who are interested in bygone eras to acquire more affordable cards in better condition featuring those names and faces of the past. It also introduces younger generations of fans to baseball history.

I took my father to the Sports Legends Museum this afternoon as a belated birthday present. It's located right next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and we'd never been, so I thought it was an excellent opportunity to take a closer look at the colorful sports history of Baltimore, and of Maryland at large. We didn't check out the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum on this trip; we'd already been there once, and we stayed at the Sports Legends Museum for three hours as it was.

It was a thorough and excellent experience, and I even learned some things that I did not know. For instance, Brooklyn Dodgers heroes Roy Campanella, Joe Black, and Junior Gilliam all played for the Baltimore Elite Giants, one of the great Negro League Teams. Also, O's shortstop Mark Belanger was the first person to suggest that the team play John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" during the seventh inning stretch; it's been an Orioles tradition for three decades since! I took several pictures with my cell phone camera, and I'll share some of them with you when I have more time. For tonight, enjoy this retro card with an excellent picture of Paul Blair showing off his Baltimore road jersey in Yankee Stadium.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pat Rapp, 2001 Topps #98

For all intents and purposes, the Orioles just brought back Pat Rapp.

Not literally, of course. The righthander has been out of baseball for seven years. But his ugly 2000 season in Baltimore (9-12, 5.90 ERA, 1.64 WHIP) is about what I would expect from the Birds' latest free agent acquisition, 6'9" lefty Mark Hendrickson.

I understand, the O's are just marking time until their crop of promising young arms (Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, etc.) ripens. They need as many inexpensive veterans as they can get to fill the rotation in 2009...and possibly 2010. They can't repeat 2008, when injuries and ineffectiveness left the team so desperate for starters that they threw wild reliever Dennis Sarfate, 26-year-old rookie Brian Bass, and even Mexican League reclamation project Alfredo Simon to the wolves.

But Mark Hendrickson? The guy is best known for his height and by extension his 1,508 career minutes with the 76ers, Kings, Nets, and Cavaliers in the NBA. He just posted a 5.45 ERA in the National League. You might as well add at least a half a run to that now that he's switching to the junior circuit. He's essentially Daniel Cabrera with better control...which sadly, was probably a selling point for the O's.

I would love for Mark to prove me wrong. One of the few perks to being an Oriole fan these days is that you're constantly introduced to ragtag players - lifetime minor leaguers and declining veterans - and occasionally they exceed your rock-bottom expectations, however briefly. When April rolls around, I'll be pulling for our new pitcher. I just hope that Braden Looper (God help me) or Kenshin Kawakami or any of the other rumored additions to the rotation are delivered before then, so Mark can take his rightful place at the back of the rotation or the front of the bullpen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chris Hoiles, 1991 Classic I #T13

Since I spent all day wrapped up in the tension of NFL playoff cliffhangers (the results of which were most pleasing to me, of course), now is as good a time as any to use my blog to answer a few questions posed by Patricia and Lucy of Dinged Corners. Enjoy!

Round One

1. If I didn't collect baseball cards, I'd collect...hmm. Tough question. I briefly dabbled in football cards in middle school, but it never stuck. I had plenty of action figures from one of my interests or another as a kid. Maybe WWF/WWE action figures. I'm still proud to own a fairly scarce Andre the Giant Hasbro figure.

2. My baseball heroes include one you probably wouldn't know from my blog or comments, and that person is Chris Hoiles. I haven't talked much about him, but when I look back at the guys I rooted for growing up, he seems like one of the most authentic. No steroid questions, no ego issues, and he was probably the best all-around catcher the O's ever had. Just a down-to-earth guy who sacrificed his body for baseball. Besides, I have a bit of a soft spot for catchers.

3. Every New Years, I resolve to build on my collection. Specifically, I'd like to complete a few more of my nearly-there sets in 2009.

4. If I could spend a day with one person from baseball history it would be Babe Ruth. I recently read a biography, and he was a guy who knew how to have a good time and was apparently very generous and big-hearted. As a fellow Baltimorean, I imagine we'd have some things to talk about.

Round Two

1. My favorite kind of dog is a beagle. Snoopy was a beagle, after all.

2. My favorite baseball player (currently) is Brian Roberts. He flies under the radar, because there's usually a bigger star on the team (Miguel Tejada, Nick Markakis) or at his position in the American League (Placido Polanco, Dustin Pedroia). But he gets on base, hits tons of doubles, and is always a threat to steal. He's also been a great philanthropist in the Baltimore area.

3. My favorite team is obviously the Baltimore Orioles. Members of my family have been rooting for the Birds for three generations, ever since the team moved from St. Louis in 1954. I was born into it, but I didn't become a baseball fan until I was ten years old. Fifteen years later, I'm still hanging in there!

4. My favorite baseball movie is A League of Their Own. For my money, it's the best thing that Tom Hanks has ever done. It's funny and tugs at the heart strings, so there's something for everyone.

5. My favorite baseball book is Lords of the Realm by John Helyar. It's a thorough history of the owners of major league baseball teams, many of whom are fascinating and colorful characters like Charley Finley, Ted Turner, and Bill Veeck. It's a deep look at labor relations in baseball, and shows how the greed and backstabbing among the richest of the rich backfired and led to the current runaway player salaries. The owners seriously have no one to blame but themselves.

6. My favorite card is surprisingly not an Oriole. It's Bill "Swish" Nicholson's 1952 Topps card, #185. It's the oldest card that I own, and it features the last MLB player to graduate from my alma mater, Washington College in Chestertown, MD. He was one of the best power hitters of the World War II era. I picked up the card from eBay in October 2007 for 10 bucks, and didn't realize until it was in my possession that the card back made mention of Washington College!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jack Cust, 2003 Topps Total #180

People are always saying that they remember where they were and what they were doing when a great or traumatic moment in history occurred. For my part, I remember where I was when I found out about the Jack Cust Game.

First, the details on the game itself. It was a Saturday night, August 16, 2003. The first-place (ugh) Yankees were in Baltimore to take on the Orioles, who had lost five straight to drop to 57-64 and usher in the annual late-season collapse. But on this night, they were game. Veteran starter Pat Hentgen gutted out six innings, striking out five and leaving with a 3-2 lead. He had been supported by improbable home runs from infielder Jose Morban (.141 career AVG) and catcher Brook Fordyce (6 HR total in 2003). But it took reliever John Parrish exactly three pitchers to surrender the lead, allowing New York's backup catcher John Flaherty to hit his second longball on the evening. The Yanks took the lead in the top of the eighth with Hideki Matsui's single off of Parrish, scoring Jason Giambi. With Mariano Rivera coming in to slam the door in the ninth inning, things looked grim. That is, until outfielder Luis Matos led off the inning with a home run to tie the game!

The score remained knotted at four until the top of the twelfth, when Giambi hit a solo home run off of Hector Carrasco with two outs to put the visitors up 5-4. The Orioles would have to rally once again. With Jeff Nelson on in relief of Chris Hammond, the first two Orioles went quietly: Tony Batista lined out to left field, and pinch hitter B. J. Surhoff struck out looking. Manager Mike Hargrove called upon another pinch hitter: rookie Jack Cust.

Cust was an interesting case, the first-ever first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He did three things at every stop in the minor leagues: hit a ton of home runs, took a bunch of walks, and struck out even more. He was incredibly similar to Adam Dunn, but teams just couldn't overlook the flaws in his game. He wasn't a good defender, he wasn't fleet of foot, and oh, those strikeouts...you know the drill. So it was that he found himself with the Orioles in 2003. He was still only 24, but he was on his third organization and had only 38 games of major league experience. He'd been called up from Ottowa, the International League's answer to Hell, early in August and had played ten games for the O's at this point. His average was just .214, but he'd garnered some buzz with three home runs and eight RBI, and five walks boosted his on-base percentage to a healthier .353. With Baltimore mired in fourth place, he would get a good opportunity to prove himself.

On this night, Jack did what he did best, battling back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk and bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Larry Bigbie. Bigbie took ball one, and then two quick strikes. Once again, the Birds were down to their last strike. But the outfielder laced Jeff Nelson's 1-2 delivery to right-center field. With two outs, Cust was off at the crack of the bat. He rounded second base, approached third, and saw coach Tom Trebelhorn windmilling his arm, waving him home. But in the meantime, Yankee right fielder Karim Garcia had cut the ball off in the gap and fired a perfect strike to second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Trebs did an about-face, tossing up the stop sign.

But Cust, at 6'1" and 205 pounds, had some difficulty putting the brakes to his momentum. He slipped and fell, and Soriano altertly chucked the ball to his third baseman, Aaron "Bleeping" Boone. Cust was trapped in no-man's land as Boone tossed the ball to Posada to initiate the rundown. The rookie turned back towards third, and Posada followed him down the line before relaying the ball to Boone once more. So again, Jack reversed field and headed for home, but something improbable had happened. It was a stroke of luck rarely afforded to the O's in their recent torturous history with the Yankees. No one was covering home plate! Boone, now holding the ball, was too far away to outrun even an ox like Cust. He could just run those last few feet unencumbered, scoring the tying run and giving probable pinch hitter Robert Machado a chance to drive in Bigbie, who would have been at second base at the very least. But Mighty Casey...fell.

There's no other way to say it. He slipped for the second time in a matter of moments, stumbled, and fell flat on his face, just feet from his goal. He scrambled on all fours, made a futile reach for the plate, but was still painfully short. Before he could even think to recover, Boone had rushed over and applied the tag to end the game.

So where was I when this circus unfolded? In scenic Toms River, New Jersey, squeezing in a long weekend visit with my then-girlfriend of ten months (incidentally, her birthday is today, which inspired this entry). We'd be together again at college less than two weeks later, but I had a friend who was New Jersey-bound that weekend, and I took advantage of the opportunity. Considering how tense and...let's say animated...I get while watching games, especially when those damned Yankees are involved, it had to have been some sort of divine providence that I wasn't watching that game. (Particularly since the girlfriend's father was a Yank fan. In hindsight, she and I were probably not meant to be.) So late that night, after the girl had gone to bed, I was prepping for a good night's sleep on the foldout sofa in her family's basement/game room. I'd flicked on Sportscenter, and as the "highlights" of the Orioles/Yankees tilt unfolded, I stared in disbelief at the sight of poor, clumsy Jack Cust making his futile crawl for home. It had to happen to the O's. It had to benefit the Yankees. Unbelievable.

Jack Cust, of course, would live to fight again. After wandering in Baseball Babylon for three more years, spending five total games in the majors and 374 in AAA outposts Ottowa, Sacramento, and Portland, he finally got a fair shake in Oakland in 2007. In two years with the A's, he's hit 59 home runs and walked 216 times. He's finally an established, major-league power hitter.

He's also gone 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts in that time. But no one's perfect.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Dick Littlefield, 1954 Bowman #213

Take a look at this very old, very classic card. Does anything strike you as odd? If you know your Orioles history, you'll recognize 1954 as the year that the St. Louis Browns moved east and became the O's. Of course, that meant that the card companies had a bunch of photos of guys in Brownie uniforms that needed some airbrushing. Topps chose to present mostly blank jerseys and caps, but Bowman got a little creative, approximating a design closely akin to the uniforms that had been worn in recent decades by the International League Orioles. It's a pretty neat look, but the birds-on-bat design had already become identified with the St. Louis Cardinals. Besides, if you look closer, Bowman's mystery artist was guilty of one of my greatest pet peeves: apostrophe abuse. What's really odd about this phenomenon is that some of the Orioles cards in this set have grammatically correct, apostrophe-free jerseys. If you click the previous link, you'll also notice that Don Lenhardt's cap shows a bird facing right, while Dick Littlefield's cap above seems to have a bird facing left. A little uniformity would be nice, but not nearly as interesting.

In the case of Littlefield, bothering to put him in an Oriole uniform at all would prove to be much ado about nothing. He pitched all of six innings for Baltimore, allowing seven runs. In May the Birds dealt him to Pittsburgh for outfielder Cal Abrams in a move that proved mutually beneficial: Dick won 10 games and posted a 3.60 ERA as a Pirate while Abrams hit .293 to lead an offensively-starved O's team.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Boog Powell, 2004 Upper Deck Timeless Teams #61

I hope that all of you have had as enjoyable a Christmas as I have. I woke up at 8:30 (comparably late for me on Christmas morning), and joined my family in the living room for gift exchanges. Everyone liked their gifts, and I did well myself. There were a few CDs and DVDs, some nice sweaters (though it was surprisingly too warm to wear them today), and of course the Orioles stuff:

-John Eisenberg's oral history of the team, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, featuring interviews from everyone from Boog Powell to Earl Weaver to Elrod Hendricks to Jim Palmer, and everyone else who ever had anything to do with the Birds.

-Courtesy of my sister, a four-game mini-plan for my dad and myself for 2009, including Opening Day against the Yankees. In the interest of fairness, I hereby promise not to bring batteries to toss at Mark Teixeira. We're a classier bunch here in Baltimore, compared to his new hometown fans in the Bronx.

-And of course, a brand-new 2009 Orioles road jersey, with "Baltimore" across the chest. It's really happening, folks.

Okay, time to digest dinner and dessert and decompress. Take care, folks.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Earl Weaver, 1983 Topps #426

Earl Weaver may not exactly be a jolly old elf, but he certainly looks like one on this card, and that works for me. As promised, here are a few things I love about Christmas, which truly is my favorite time of year.

1. Time away from work. This year, I was lucky enough to get a two-week break.

2. Holiday specials. Here's a short article I wrote about some of my favorites.

3. Family traditions. I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. Again, I'm going to be lazy (hey, it's Christmas) and link you elsewhere.

4. Food. Christmas means my mom's delicious sausage stuffing, and my sister's half-dozen different batches of cookies, and much more. I'm a food lover, and there's plenty to choose from right about now.

5. Parties. I'm usually a stick-in-the-mud (especially now that most of my friends are far away), and the holidays give me a good excuse to go be social. I've already been to three parties this year, and one more is in the offing.

6. Giving. I'm always eager to watch friends and family open their presents, to find out if I chose wisely. I've also donated to Penny Arcade's Child's Play Charity for the past five years, and I'm continually blown away by the huge numbers they pull in.

7. Getting. Honestly, who doesn't like receiving gifts?

Merry Christmas folks, and Happy Holidays if you celebrate something else, or even if you don't celebrate anything at all. I'll throw up something quick tomorrow, so you don't waste too much of your day reading my ramblings.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Albert Belle, 1999 Stadium Club #315

Ugh, I don't even feel like talking about Mark Teixeira, but I suppose I should get it out of my system. I never truly thought he was coming to Baltimore, but as the Hot Stove talk droned on and the Orioles were consistently mentioned in the short list of teams that had legitimately made offers and had not been eliminated, I got sucked in just like everyone else. He wouldn't have made this team a winner, but he would have helped with his power bat, his glove, and even his feel-good local boy story. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis would have had a more tangible reason to believe that this team's efforts to rebuild a winner were in earnest, making them more eager to sign contract extensions. Now, back to the more gradual methods and blueprints.

I couldn't care less if Mark wanted to play for a winner, but it would've been easier to take if he had stayed with the Angels. I didn't want him in Boston, but even that may have been preferable to the stinking Yankees. I don't know how Bud Selig can sit on his sweaty, withered hands and pretend that nothing stinks with baseball when the Yankees squeeze hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money out of the state of New York to build their garish, egalitarian stadium and then turn around and toss out $425 million to grab not only one or two, but the three most prized free agents in this year's class. I know they haven't won the World Series since 2000, but they are able to get a helluva head start on everybody year in and year out with their pocketbook, and that just plain sucks.

I suspected that Teixeira was blowing smoke when he was quoted periodically about his childhood Oriole fandom and his great desire to play in Camden Yards and to be close to home, but I wanted to believe that he was at least a bit genuine. Considering the reality of the situation, and agent Scott Boras' final call to Andy MacPhail to let him know that they were "going in another direction" without allowing MacPhail to make a final proposal, Mark has shown his true colors as another disingenuous mercenary in a long line of them. May he win as many championships in pinstripes as Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, and the rest of the multi-million dollar gang did.

Albert Belle was the last prominent free agent that the Orioles outpaced the Yankees in order to sign, and that turned out swimmingly. Two years of production followed by an injury-forced retirement. Buyer beware.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I haven't lost sight of that. Come back for a much more pleasant discussion.

Don Levinski, 2004 Bowman Heritage #313

This card design is obviously based on 1955 Bowman, the set from which I posted this Johnny Pesky card. Much like Pesky, pitcher Don Levinski (acquired from the Marlins in the Jeff Conine trade) never played a game with the Orioles. Perhaps the screen on his TV should display a "Technical Difficulties: Please Stand By" graphic.

Speaking of technical difficulties, this will be the first of two posts today as a mea culpa for missing yesterday's entry. After all, when you routinely wait until the last few hours of the day to start thinking about the day's post, it's just a matter of time until the Internet connection goes out before you have a chance to write something up. That's precisely what happened to me on Monday. Oops!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marty Brown, 1990 Donruss The Rookies #39

Today was an interesting day to end a very busy weekend. I drove an hour and a half to a Christmas party/housewarming for Boothe and Molly, good friends of mine who were married in May. This was the third straight day of partying for me, following another friend's 35th birthday celebration on Friday night and a family holiday gathering yesterday afternoon/early evening. Needless to say, I am very relieved that I was able to get two weeks off for Christmas and New Year's, which enables me to stay at home and recharge my batteries for the next few days. Anyway, the drive was lengthy but uneventful, and I even passed Prince George's County Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox (AA affiliate of the Orioles).

It was also the first time that I have seen most of my closest friends from college in the past few months, including my former roommate Mikey. As he was leaving at the end of the night, he unceremoniously pointed to Boothe and myself and asked, "groomsman?". We'd been drafted into the wedding party for his August nuptials. It was expected, but nonetheless an honor. Mikey also let me know that he had some boxes of cards for me. For some reason, any mail that is addressed to our old apartment forwards to him now. It's possible that the post office just gave up on me after my second move of the summer, I suppose.

So I went out to Mikey's car and grabbed my bounty. First there was a bubble mailer with a few cards from Steve of White Sox Cards, including a minor league issue of Jack Voigt from his Hagerstown Suns days. Then there were two small boxes taped steadfastly together, which I waited until just now to open. They came from Mark of Stats on the Back, a blog that I need to take more time to read in 2009. The boxes were packed with a variety of Orioles from the 1980s and 1990s, a wide range of Cal Ripkens and Eddie Murrays and Mike Mussinas and plenty of more localized heroes, but also some true Missing Persons like the Marty Brown card you see above. For those interested in his stats (including Mark, most likely), Mr. Brown had all of 61 at-bats in the majors, and just 15 with the Orioles. His .200 average with the 1990 O's boosted his final career mark to .180.

It's always fun to get a few unexpected packages from readers and/or fellow bloggers; I might just have to send out a couple of my own over the break.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Storm Davis, 1993 Score #449

Okay, we're exceptionally late and brief tonight because football takes precedence on certain days, particularly when my Ravens are fighting for their playoff lives in the final game at Texas Stadium against a tough Cowboys team. (In honor of the game, I've posted a card of Dallas native Storm Davis.) It was an exhilarating game, won by Baltimore 33-24 thanks to three quarters of stifling defense followed by an explosive, back-and-forth final fifteen minutes. It's really exciting to watch this team go from the outhouse (5-11) to the penthouse (10-5 with one game remaining). If Charm City's other Birds can beat Jacksonville at home next Sunday, they will be in the postseason. I'm holding out hope that the O's will soon give us two teams that a source of pride.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Gus Triandos, 1961 Topps #140

Ten thoughts on Gus Triandos:

1. I absolutely would not want to be an opposing baserunner, trying to beat the relay throw home and seeing that mug staring back at me.

2. If you're an Oriole fan looking for any and every example of the Birds getting the best of the Yankees, it's worth noting that he was the Birds' big "get" in a historic seventeen-player trade in November 1954. In the New York pecking order he had been blocked by Berra and Elston Howard. In Baltimore he became one of the best power-hitting catchers of his time.

3. Using Baseball-Reference's Oracle of Baseball (similar to "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"), you can link Triandos to Chris Hoiles (the O's catcher who has come closest to beating Gus' single-season team record of 30 HR by a catcher) in two steps. There are a few ways to do it, including Brooks Robinson (Gus' teammate 1955-1962) ---> Rick Dempsey (Brooks' teammate 1976-1977) ---> Hoiles (Rick's teammate 1992).

4. Gus caught Hoyt Wilhelm's no-hitter against the Yankees in 1958 and Jim Bunning's perfect game (with the Phillies) against the Mets in 1964.

5. Speaking of catching Wilhelm and his knuckleball, it was not Triandos' favorite thing to do. Thanks largely to the thankless task of chasing the fluttering pitch, Gus ranks eighth in the modern era with 138 passed balls. Paul Richards designed an oversized catcher's mitt for him, but it wasn't enough. One offseason, a reporter called to let the catcher know he'd been traded to the Dodgers. He let out a cheer, and talked about how eager he was to leave Baltimore. It turned out that the trade rumor was false...oops!

6. Gus is not a big fan of Casey Stengel, who did not give him much of a shot in the Bronx and left him sitting on the bench in the 1957 All-Star Game. But he acknowledges that Elston Howard was still a pretty good choice as Casey's catcher. Oddly enough, Gus and Casey share a birthday (July 30).

7. Triandos led the Orioles in home runs each season from 1955-1959. Some years it wasn't a big challenge. In 1955, the runner-up was a three-way tie between Cal Abrams, Dave Philley, and Hoot Evers, with six apiece! (To be fair, Memorial Stadium was like Death Valley in 1955: 450 feet to center field and 447 to the power alleys. Yikes.)

8. Gus now runs a postal company in San Jose, CA. At least he did at the time of this interview.

9. Of the 154 home runs accounted for in Gus' home run log, only one was a walkoff shot. It came off of former Oriole teammate Robin Roberts in the bottom of the tenth inning on September 14, 1963. His clout gave the Tigers a 3-2 win.

10. For more on Gus Triandos, including a card featuring him in a Phillies uniform, check out this post at my other blog.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Sutcliffe, 1993 Stadium Club #246

This week there has been a startling lack of viable options on television. Tonight I was bailed out by an old standby: Orioles Classics on MASN. The featured game was the first opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards: Monday, April 6, 1992. As I was gazing at a patchwork lineup that included the immortal Sam Horn, a mulleted Billy Ripken, and Leo "Lay-o" Gomez, I found myself wondering how in blazes that particular team won 89 times. But then again, I suppose having actual, real-life pitchers helped a lot. In this particular game, the veteran free agent made his Orioles debut in stunning fashion, helping his new team christen their ballpark with a 2-0 win. He plowed through the Indians lineup (featuring Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, and Albert Belle) in two hours and two minutes, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out six. Only two Tribers reached second base, none after the fifth inning. After a decade of suffering through overmatched pitchers who are praised for "eating innings" and "keeping the team in the game", I'd give anything to see a game like that some time soon - a live game.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dustin Yount, 2003 Bowman #329

I think I've determined one of the primary culprits for the Orioles' relatively barren farm system over the past few decades. The team saved money on scouting by just drafting and signing players with familiar names. The young man pictured above is indeed the son of Hall of Fame Brewers shortstop/outfielder Robin Yount, but a famous bloodline does not a major leaguer make. Dustin hit .241 in seven seasons in the O's organization, and is now hawking his wares in the independent leagues. On the plus side, he did lead the Lincoln SaltDogs in several offensive categories in 2008. It's a shame that Topps couldn't find a photo of him that didn't have gray clouds looming in the distance; they seem to have put the whammy on the first baseman.

In the past two decades, the Birds have had plenty of sons of prominent big leaguers pass through their minor league clubhouses with few tangible benefits. Off the top of my head, there was also Tim Raines, Jr., Pete Rose, Jr., and Jeff Nettles (son of Graig). The latter did just hit 24 home runs for AA Bowie in 2008, but it was at age 29, a full decade older than some of his teammates.

Maybe in the future the Orioles should stick to guys who don't have to worry about playing in the shadows of their own names.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Don Aase, 1987 Donruss 3x5 All-Stars #47

I lost track of time tonight, and in a pinch, oddball cards work well. I'd never seen one of these big boys until Mr. Aase arrived in a bubble mailer from John in the United Kingdom. Donruss put out a set of 60 oversized cards to commemorate the 1986 All-Stars. They actually measure about 3 1/2" x 5 ", just like the photos you used to take before the days of digital cameras. Oversized and undersized cards kind of bug me, because I'm so used to the standard 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch card size. They're easier for me to stack, sort, and store. That being said, if you're going to go for a different size, go for broke. The cards that I've abused the worst are those that are just barely bigger than usual, like 1989 Bowman or the late Eighties Topps Big cards. I'd try to shoehorn them into boxes or binder sheets meant for the regular cards, and they paid the price. I'm not sure what I'll do with Big Ol' Don Aase. Maybe I'll put it in a photo frame and confuse the hell out of future visitors to my home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mark McLemore, 1993 Upper Deck SP #159

Having finished most of my Christmas shopping for family and friends, I bought a little something for myself today. A round-trip plane ticket to Mark McLemore's hometown of San Diego. Last Spring, Jill, a close friend from college, moved to the West Coast with her fiance, who's pretty cool himself. All that I ever hear about San Diego is how unbelievably nice it is, particularly the weather. So now I had a gift-wrapped excuse to take a trip out there, no small feat for someone who'd never traveled farther west than Youngstown, Ohio. So I talked about visiting from time to time, but mostly as a murky promise of something to come at some undetermined date in the future.

Then, winter came.

I may have mentioned in the past that I am, and always have been, a summer person. I am grouchily intolerant of bitter cold weather and skies that darken before five P.M. Plus, there's the lack of baseball. So when I found myself shivering on the train platform on a recent weekday morning, waiting for a tedious day of work while a nasty frigid wind blasted me in the face, I thought: "The hell with this. I'm going to San Diego." I don't see why not. You never know what the future will bring, so I'm going to jump at the chance while I have the time and the funds. That means that you should be on the lookout for another installment of "This Day in Orioles History when President's Day weekend rolls around in February. It seems like an ideal time to get out of Maryland, as winter on the East Coast generally saves its worst for last and summer vacations will still be several months away.

If I run into Mark McLemore, I'll tell him that you said hello.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Daniel Cabrera, 2008 Upper Deck First Edition #143

While I was distracted this weekend with family Christmas parties, heartbreaking football games, and Internet outages, the Orioles cut ties with Daniel Cabrera, failing to tender him a contract by the midnight deadline on Friday night/Saturday morning. This ends the five-year tenure of one of the most frustrating performers ever to wear an O's uniform. A 6'8" pitcher with a nasty attitude and an arm speed of ninety-plus miles per hour will get all the chances in the world, and the Birds surely used up a lot of those chances. It doesn't matter how unhittable your pitches are if they seldom find the plate, but Danny's problems were compounded by an increase in hits by opposing batters. His velocity started to tail off, and the team was convinced that he was injured, though they couldn't find any concrete evidence. That was enough to scare them away from a probable $5 million contract for 2009. While I cannot fault Baltimore for settting Cabrera free, and I will not miss the few dozen headaches per year that he caused, there's still a nagging feeling that he will win 15-18 games somewhere and make us look bad. Who knows?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Orioles No-Hitter, 1991 Stadium Club Members Only

I just finished reading "It's Gone!...No, Wait a Minute" by Ken Levine. It's the memoir of a Hollywood screenwriter who realized a childhood dream by becoming a baseball radio announcer. In 1991, he made his major league debut on Orioles telecasts, teaming with Jon Miller and Chuck Thompson. It sounds like nice work if you can get it, but the Birds were godawful that year: 67-95, 24 games back of Toronto in sixth place. One of the things that struck me about his witty, honest account of that long season was just how many memorable moments there were in such a lousy campaign. He marveled daily at the otherworldly MVP exploits of Cal Ripken, Jr. (.323, 34 HR, 114 RBI), witnessed two no-hitters (one a four-pitcher combo against Oakland, the other a Wilson Alvarez white-washing of the Birds), and of course broadcasted the emotional final ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. Whenever the O's fall apart in another endless summer, I try to remind myself of the positive aspects of the long baseball season. Even the worst teams win 65 games a year, and there will be dozens of nights when it seems like your team is on top of the world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Dick Williams, 1962 Topps #382

Considering the circuitous route of Dick Williams' playing career, I'm sure he never imagined that he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. Before becoming the manager of the Athletics dynasty of the early 1970s, the gruff St. Louis native was a baseball vagabond, a man without a team or a position. He switched teams seven times in an eight-year span from 1956-1963, including three separate stints with the Orioles. He passed through the Houston organization during the 1962-63 offseason, never playing a single game for the then-Colt .45s. The list of players he was traded with and for includes Gene Woodling, Dick Hall, and Larry Doby.

When Williams did get on the field, he had to fill in wherever he was needed. He logged over 100 career games at four different positions: third base, left field, first base, and center field. He hunkered down in right field for 52 games and at second base for another 20. On three occasions he played all six of these positions in a single season. Considering all of this movement, Dick would have been forgiven for being a bit distracted when he came to bat. However, he hit a solid .260 overall with good power: three double-digit home run seasons and two straight years of 30-plus doubles.

Today, no one thinks of Dick Williams as a player. His 1,571 managerial wins dwarf his on-field exploits. But he did plenty of things well with the bat and the glove, which helped him stick around for 13 years. He certainly paid his dues over sixty years in baseball to earn his bronze plaque.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mike Flanagan, 1991 Score Rookies/Traded #2T

I can't help but feel for Mike Flanagan. Few men have devoted more of their lives to the Orioles organization than the sharp-witted lefty from New Hampshire. From 1975 to 1987, he won 139 games, a Cy Young award, and a World Championship in Baltimore. A trade to Toronto brought only a temporary separation; when the Blue Jays released Mike in 1990, he returned to Charm City, reinventing himself as a valuable reliever (2.38 ERA in 64 games in 1991). He was the last Oriole to throw a pitch in Memorial Stadium. Two years after his 1992 retirement, he was selected to the Orioles Hall of Fame. He served as the team's pitching coach on two occasions, and was a color commentator for televised games for six years. From 2003 to mid-2007, he was the de facto general manager. Though his personnel moves did not turn around the Birds' fortunes, there was plenty of blame to go around. When Andy MacPhail was hired as general manager last June, Flanagan was kept on in the front office, his role somewhat murky. Now, with MacPhail firmly in charge and Flanny notably absent from the Baltimore contingent at the Winter Meetings, the writing appears to be on the wall.

It's just uncomfortable to watch someone who has served the club in as many capacities as you can imagine twist in the wind like this. For a year and a half, Mike has kept to himself, saying the right things, as he's been more or less pushed aside without being completely set free. Whatever is next for Number 46, I hope he finds a way to continue participating in Orioles baseball.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dave Ford, 1981 Fleer #192

Some days you've just gotta cut your losses, post a card with a picture of Dave Ford looking as tired as you feel, and wander off to bed secure in the knowledge that your mattress and pillow are more comfortable than Dave's immediate confines in Fenway Park. Good night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ramon Hernandez, 2006 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #114

Adios, Ramon.

Catcher Ramon Hernandez has just become the latest ex-Oriole, having been traded to the Cincinnati Reds with a million dollars cash for utility player Ryan Freel and two minor league infielders. It's a shame that most fans, myself included, are expressing nothing but relief at his departure. But that comes with the territory. After signing a lucrative four-year deal with the Birds prior to 2006, the former Padres backstop started strong (.275 with a career-high 23 home runs and 91 RBI), but the last two years were full of questions about his conditioning and his effort. His offense slipped and his defense...well, what's Spanish for "passed ball"? Now local reporters are talking about the frustration felt by Ramon's teammates over his increasingly predictable game-calling. Manager Dave Trembley was fairly transparent as he emphasized Ramon's hitting potential and said nothing about his defense when attempting to talk him up last week. This might just be addition by subtraction. Best of luck to Ramon in Cincinnati. I'm sure his game will improve with a change of scenery (not to mention a hitter's ball park) and a contract year...but then again, I said the same thing prior to the 2008 season.

I'm somewhat excited about Ryan Freel, mostly because of his reckless, all-out style and the stories about Farney. But I'm not fooling myself. Freel is a spare part, the two prospects are not blue-chippers, and this trade is largely a salary dump. However, it's a significant move. The path is clear for our #1 prospect, catcher Matt Wieters, to join the Orioles in 2009. There's talk of signing a cheap veteran like Gregg Zaun to ease the transition, but the future is closer than ever.

Monday, December 8, 2008

T. R. Lewis, 1993 Bowman #85

Former Orioles farmhand T. R. Lewis is one of those guys I haven't given a second thought since about 1995, when he was putting up decent (but not eye-popping) numbers in the minors. He was just another of the seeming dozens of would-be O's who got their own baseball card but never played a single game with the big club. At least that's what I thought until I happened to flip this card over while sorting last week:

"In identifying the best pure hitter in the Baltimore system, Theodore Roosevelt Lewis could be a candidate. Unfortunately, shoulder problems (originating in 1989 when he was tossed from a car at 75 mph) have left him in defensive limbo. A .290 hitter over four seasons, he could develop into a potent DH."

Wait, WHAT? The T. R. stood for Theodore Roosevelt? There was a guy in the Baltimore organization who could hit .300 and was named for the ass-kickingest President in American history, and I didn't even know it? And he survived being thrown from a car at a high speed as a teenager? All this, and he never even got a taste of the major leagues? Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

John Parrish, 2001 Upper Deck #27

I always thought that pitcher John Parrish resembled comedian Harland Williams. What do you say? One thing is for sure - he gave the Orioles tantalizing glimpses of what could have been, if only he had stayed healthy and pitched with more control. Those are pretty big ifs, of course. But I'll always remember his debut in July 2000, when the former 25th-round pick from Lancaster, PA stood toe-to-toe with Roger Clemens. Though he lost a 4-3 heartbreaker, he actually outpitched a man who would win 354 career games by striking out nine Yankees in seven innings. He also seemed genuinely moved by the rousing ovation he received on Opening Day of 2007, when he made the O's roster after missing a year and a half with injuries. He was incredible out of the bullpen that April, notching ten straight scoreless appearances with 13 strikeouts and just two walks.

This past May, my Dad and I were in the right field bleachers at Oriole Park for a surprisingly chilly Friday night game with the Nationals. I overheard a guy behind us talking about what a friendly, down-to-Earth guy John Parrish was. He had apparently chatted him up prior to a Spring Training game a few years earlier in Fort Lauderdale, and the lefty invited the guy to go out drinking later that night with a few of the O's. I don't remember who else ended up being part of the outing besides Nick Markakis, who was headed into his rookie season. But in this era of closely guarded public images for athletes, it's nice to hear about a player raising a few glasses with the little people that help to pay his salary.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leo Gomez, 1993 Donruss #31

AAAAHHHHHH! LOOK OUT, LADY! The ball is coming right for you! And so is Leo Gomez! At least you've got your extra-large round shades to protect your eyes. Not to mention the fact that you're wearing your Sunday finest...hmmm...I wonder if there's a Mrs. Leo Gomez? If so, don't worry. The world is your oyster. Maybe you can hook up with the photographer down in the camera well. His Red Sox hat, white shirt with rolled up sleeves, and light purple shorts tell me that he's dressed for success. Oh yeah.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Fred Marsh, 1955 Topps #13

I normally don't scan the card backs for this blog, but if I let today pass by without showing you the other side of this fifty-three year old slab of cardboard, you might think that this was just a nifty throwback to the early days of Orioles baseball. A big, pleasant smile from Fred Marsh, who seems nice enough for a career .239 hitter whose Baltimore career lasted 109 games over two seasons. He's got some really awesome stirrups, and the logo with the bizarre blob of blood-red covering the cartoon Bird's face is certainly a conversation piece. But all of these elements mask the macabre attempt at humor that lurks behind. Let's flip this one over, shall we?
As you can see, Fred's middle name is Francis. Maybe he was named after the animal-loving saint from Assisi, Italy. The big black card number inside the baseball is an eye-catcher. I'm not sure where Corry is in Pennsylvania. Let's consult Google...okay, it's way Northwest, practically in New York. The closest city of any note is Erie. We've got some stats down the bottom showing that Fred hit .306 in a pinch for the 1954 White Sox. Oh, look at the charming little cartoon about "Merkle's Boner"...

Holy crap, is that morbid! Fred Marsh's poor namesake is actually shown wearing a decent mock-up of the 1907 Giants uniform, not the 1908 ensemble. But then, the '07 duds are more visually striking. Anyway, the unfortunate 19-year-old Merkle is apparently so distraught over his pennant-losing gaffe that he has chosen to take his own life. Just to make sure he doesn't screw this up as well, he's gone to the trouble of fitting himself with a noose, ingesting poison, and putting a gun to his own temple. His teammates, including one burly fellow with a luxurious handlebar mustache, are rushing to Fred's side to stop him. I assume they were successful, as he went on to hit .273 in a 16-year career and died in 1956 at age 67. So in fact, he was still alive when this card was made! I wonder if he ever saw it, and what he might have thought of it. In all seriousness, my jaw dropped when I first took it in, but after a moment of disbelief, I had a good laugh. To think that adults today worry about movies and video games desensitizing children to violence!

Of course, being linked with this suicide-glorifying sketch seemed to put the whammy on Fred Marsh. In 1955, the year of the card's release, he missed nearly half the season with a broken elbow and a leg injury. The following year, he went 3-for-24 at the plate and by the end of May he was finished as a player. At least there was life after baseball for Fred; he apparently returned home to Pennsylvania and spent many years as a postal carrier. He just passed away two years ago, at age 82.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Don Stanhouse, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #432

One of the primary influences on this blog was, and continues to be, Josh Wilker's Cardboard Gods. Today, Josh wrote about a seminal moment in the history of his own blog. He had previously posted a Don Stanhouse card with an amusing and fictional glimpse inside the mind of "Stan the Man Unusual", and apparently his subject stumbled upon the piece and the ensuing comments, and responded in measured, diplomatic fashion:

2008-05-24 17:33:10
Stanhouse gets my vote for most "spaced out" Dodger of all time.

2008-11-17 17:18:30
Thank you for all of the votes! I have been booed by 55,000 drunk, angry, rain soaked Yankee fans and there is not much you can say that will hurt my feelings. YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME.......BAM!

2008-11-17 17:19:38

Okay, it's me speaking again. I love the following things about this situation, assuming that "FULLPACK" is who he claims to be:

a. Don Stanhouse is embracing the derogatory nickname bestowed upon him by Earl Weaver
all those years ago.

b. Don Stanhouse is searching the Internet for sarcastic things that people may have said about him six months ago.

c. Don Stanhouse claims not to be hurt by Josh's words, and yet a mere 68 seconds later, he seems extremely agitated, what with the all-caps and throwing down the gauntlet.

d. Don Stanhouse doesn't seem to know where to find Josh Wilker, who has posted his full name, email address, location, and even the road where he catches the bus elsewhere on his blog.

e. I'm still trying to decipher "BAM!" Is it both the figurative and literal exclamation point on his statement, or is he a fan of Emeril? Or perhaps he's imagining that he's sucker punching Josh?

Food for thought.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brooks Robinson, 2008 Donruss Threads #3

They're BAAAAAACCCKKK! Okay, so they don't have all the proper licensing just now. You might notice the lack of a black and orange cartoon bird logo on Brooksie's helmet, or the plain all-caps "BALTIMORE" with no subsequent "ORIOLES". I'm not sure why the "Orioles" wordmark still appears on his jersey; it's the same with the other card I've gotten from this set (Eddie Murray). So clearly Donruss doesn't have a full MLB license, but they've got their foot in the door and this is an understated, classy-looking set. I especially like the baseball-stitch bunting in the top corners. Good to have them back in some capacity to cut through the sniping and tedium and gimmickry of Upper Deck and Topps.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jay Payton, 2007 Topps Opening Day #212

The baseball offseason can be a bittersweet time of year. While it may be easy to get caught up in the so-called Hot Stove League, constantly checking sports websites and blogs for the latest rumors about which free agent signings and trades your team might make, you might overlook the fact that several players that you spent the last year or more following and rooting for are being shown the door.

All around baseball, several players are now looking for new homes. Last night was the deadline for teams to offer their free agents arbitration. You can still negotiate with your free agents after this deadline, but for all intents and purposes, this is a kiss-off for those who are not offered arbitration. That's certainly the case with the four Orioles who were in this boat: Alex Cintron, Juan Castro, Kevin Millar, and Jay Payton.

Cintron and Castro weren't even with the club for a full season, and as two-fifths of the Great Shortstop Horrorshow, they'll barely be missed. I thought Cintron had promise as a capable hitter, even though he was a butcher in the field, and I liked that he wore #13, my favorite. I was also there for the home run he hit in the sweep game of our interleague series with the Astros. That Juan Castro was an option at short speaks to the absolute dearth of talent the O's had at the position. He was a thirty-six year old with a career average of .230 who managed to underperform even that low mark (.205 in 54 games in '08), and he became the de facto starter in the second half. No matter how smooth his glovework may have been (and it was smooth), that dog don't hunt. Adios, Alex y Juan.

Kevin Millar I will truly miss. He is the best clubhouse guy in the major leagues, someone who had the guts and humor to predict a World Series trip after ten straight losing seasons. He was the brains behind the "Oriole Magic" video that made every home win a little sweeter. Kevin took enough walks to pull his own weight and had some pop in his bat (17 HR and 20 HR in his two seasons here), and he was underrated and surprisingly nimble at first base. Plus, he killed the Yankees (.344 with 10 HR in 2007-08). But an MLB team can't afford to start a terribly slow .234 hitter at first base every day, and Kevin is reluctant to accept a reduced role. See you around, One-Five.

Jay Payton never really fit in here; much like the obviously Photoshopped picture up above, something wasn't right. He was really emblematic of the desperate personnel decisions that plagued the last decade of Orioles baseball. He came to the Birds as a 34-year-old free agent journeyman with a checkered history: an injury here, a burnt bridge there. But the front office seemingly zeroed in on his .296 average in 2006 and the mere fact that he was willing to take their money, and thus JayPay was a five million dollar man. In his two years in Baltimore, he failed to get on base at a .300 clip, and couldn't even slug at a .400 pace. But he wasn't much of a headache as far as I know, and his grand slam off of Hideki Okajima early in 2008 was a rare bright spot against the insufferable Red Sox.

There you go. Four more players are essentially ex-Orioles, and I found something nice to say about each of them. Best of luck, fellas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lee Smith, 1995 Pinnacle #64

LinkIt's that time of year again; Hall of Fame ballots have been mailed. The older I get, the more disillusioned I become with the selection process. The Baseball Writers' Association of America is an exclusionist, flat-Earth society and too many writers treat their vote like a joke. After Woody Paige's admission that he picked Goose Gossage because he was nice to him, and the mere fact that somebody voted for Todd Stottlemyre, I can't begin to predict how badly the BBWAA will screw up the Class of 2009. But this is first and foremost a baseball blog, so let's talk shop. The former Orioles on this year's ballot are Harold Baines, Jesse Orosco, Tim Raines, and Lee Smith. All four had long and remarkable careers, but they are not all Hall-worthy.

Harold Baines is one of my favorite players and by all accounts a first-class human being, but he was never head and shoulders above his peers- never great. Regrettably, knee injuries robbed him of his speed and made him incomplete. He was an impressive hitter, but he didn't put up the sort of numbers necessary to gain entry to the Hall as a one-dimensional player.

Jesse Orosco is notable primarily for his longevity. Making a living as a major league pitcher for 24 seasons is nothing to scoff at, but he was a highly specialized role player for much of his career, not even averaging an inning per appearance in any season from 1991-2003.

Tim Raines meets my criteria for the Hall of Fame. He was one of the premier leadoff hitters of the 1980s, getting on base at an impressive .385 clip, and his 808 stolen bases are fifth all-time. I doubt he'll get in this year, since Rickey Henderson is on the ballot and voters will want to compare the two, but that's apparently the nature of this beast. He might also be hurt by memories of his admitted cocaine abuse in the Eighties, but he's long since rehabilitated himself and there are plenty of worse scoundrels enshrined in Cooperstown (see: Cobb, Tyrus).

In my opinion, Lee Smith also passes muster. In an era when closers are finally gaining entrance to the Hall (Eckersley, Sutter, Gossage), you can hardly exclude the man who amassed a record 478 saves, a mark since surpassed by Trevor Hoffman. The barrel-chested, long-legged Cajun struck out 2.5 batters for every walk in his 18-year career, and his 131 adjusted ERA+ (which accounts for home ballpark and league averages - 100 is average) was better than the figures for Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley.

So if I had my way, two ex-O's would be headed to Cooperstown next summer. They may not have spent much time in Baltimore, but they're a part of our history nonetheless.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tom Underwood, 1984 O-Pee-Chee #293

In case you ever wondered about some of the differences between Topps and O-Pee-Chee back when OPC was simply Topps' Canadian brand, I just happen to have both versions of Tom Underwood's 1984 card. As you can see above, Tom is pictured with the Athletics but labeled as an Oriole on his O-Pee-Chee card. There is also the helpful "Now with Orioles" notation floating on top of his groin. It makes him seem like a snack food that's been repackaged by Madison Avenue. "It's Tom Underwood by Nabisco! Now with Orioles! Mmm, taste that orange and black!"

Taking a gander at the 1984 Topps version of Underwood's card, you'll see essentially the same card, but with the Topps logo, the Athletics coloring and wordmark, and a squeaky-clean text-free groin. Tom was something of a latecomer, signing with the O's in February of 1984. His Topps cards were printed and shipped by then, but it wasn't too late to assign him to the Birds for the North of the Border cards. So I guess there was some tradeoff for those Canadian kids who waited patiently for their brand-new cards.
Tom Underwood by you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rene Gonzales, 1990 Donruss #401

You probably know by know that one of my quirky preoccupations as an Orioles fan is uniform numbers. For this reason, I have a special appreciation for utility infielder Rene Gonzales. "Gonzo" had worn #19 in the mid-Eighties with the Expos, but his favorite number was 8. When he got to Baltimore, a certain Ripken was entrenched in that number, so Rene doubled it. I believe he was the first player to wear #88 with any regularity, and was certainly the first Oriole to wear any number in the eighties in the regular season. He kept it for his entire stint in Charm City (1987-1990), and wore it at his future destinations of Toronto, California, Cleveland, and Texas. He played two games with the Rockies in 1997 and the spoilsports handed him #28.

Gonzo's legacy was continued by rookie first baseman Paul Carey, who debuted with the Birds in May 1993. His rationale was that #8 had proven pretty lucky for Cal Ripken, so hopefully #88 would be "twice as lucky for me". He played only 18 games in 1993, his first and only year in the majors, so I'm not sure how lucky the crazy eights turned out to be.

The third and final Oriole (to date) to wear #88 was a greater headline-grabber than his predecessors. Surly, hulking outfielder Albert Belle signed with the O's prior to the 1999 season for a bank-breaking five years and $65 million. He had worn #8 since 1990 with the Indians and White Sox, but even his 321 home runs did not trump the Iron Man. So it was that Albert too doubled his favored digit. The mercurial slugger certainly earned his keep in his first season in orange and black, bashing 36 doubles and 37 home runs, driving in 117 runs, and walking 101 times to boot. But things went downhill in a hurry. In 2000, Belle's production dropped notably (though he still lead a weak club in 2B, HR, and RBI) and he abruptly retired at age 33 with a degenerative hip condition.

As soon as Cal Ripken, Jr. hung up his spikes in October 2001, the Orioles retired his #8. Since then, Javy Lopez has been the most likely incoming Oriole to go double-eight. But he blew it by switching from #8 to #18 when he relocated to our fine city. Bo-ring. Will there be more #88s in Baltimore's future? Time will tell.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Fred Holdsworth, 1977 Topps #466

Is it my imagination, or does reliever Fred Holdsworth look a little queasy in this photo? I blame it on his surroundings. After all, the entirety of Oakland-Alameda County Stadium appears to be a little crooked. Did the world suddenly tilt about fifteen degrees to our left, Fred's right? If so, why exactly are the Athletics still taking batting practice unabated, as though nothing is awry? Something serious is going on here; even the scoreboard has blacked out. Maybe this is one of those earthquakes that are all the rage in California, particularly in the Bay Area. "What if they want to whisk me away in an ambulance for further examination?" the O's righthander wonders. "Did I remember to wear clean underwear today? Wait a minute...am I even wearing underwear at all? These west coast road trips always throw me out of whack. Why won't he just snap the photo already?"

Or, you know, maybe the photographer just hadn't had his V8 yet that day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Glenn Davis, 1991 Studio #1

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here's your turkey. Gobble gobble.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Troy Patton, 2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History #119

Some baseball cards are more presumptuous than others. How can you assess Troy Patton's place in the history of the sport when he has twelve and two-thirds innings of major league experience? Or is Upper Deck implying that Troy's career has already been relegated to the history books? I certainly hope it's not the latter. It's easy to forget in this short-attention-span era, but this young lefty was the centerpiece of the Miguel Tejada trade, the guy that Astros fans really hated to see leave. He was one of the top prospects in their organization, a pitcher who projected to a mid-rotation starter (which would practically make him a #2 for the pitching-starved O's).

That was before he showed up in Spring Training with a sore shoulder and learned that he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum. He was done for the year, and many pessimists throughout Birdland wrote him off for good. But sports medicine is making remarkable strides each year, and Patton has already begun throwing again, with every expectation to "crank it up" in just a few weeks' time in preparation for the 2009 season. It's a little soon to talk history when it comes to Troy Patton, whether it be good or bad. My fingers are crossed, though.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Randy Milligan, 1991 Fleer Ultra #20

This Thursday, Randy "Moose" Milligan will be celebrating not only Thanksgiving, but also his 47th birthday. It stands to reason that he has a lot to give thanks for. It's important to have perspective in what has become a very trying time for increasing numbers of people. More than ever before, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There are more poor, as well. The United States, and the world at large, are in the midst of the largest economic recession in the past few decades. Jobs are disappearing, homes are facing foreclosure.

Looking at things from this vantage point, I've been very fortunate. I have a stable job that pays well, and a roof over my head. I can afford to feed and clothe myself, with enough left over for diversion like these cards. I spend a lot of time throughout the year complaining about my long commute to work, or shouting at the television when the Orioles blow a game. But if these are my most pressing concerns on a day-to-day basis, I'm doing alright.

Chances are that most of us are soon to get swept up in the runaway consumerism of the Christmas season, and Thanksgiving comes with its own focus on conspicuous consumption. I'm going to follow the lead of baseball blog Walkoff Walk and urge you to make a donation to your local food bank. Every dollar helps provide meals for families less fortunate than yours or mine. You can find a list with links to a food bank in each Major League Baseball city here. If you wish to donate elsewhere, you can probably find it on the Google. Thanks for humoring my philanthropic side.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tim Raines, Jr., 1999 Bowman Foil #363

Man, these foil cards sure do scan like crap. Anyone have any special tricks they can recommend?

Anyway, this card reminds me of a lost period in my Orioles fandom. For my first few years of college, I had very little to do with the Birds. I was preoccupied with plays, classes, girls, living away from home for the first time...lots of stuff. Let's face it, the O's were in the early dark stages of their decline, still cluelessly banking on aging veterans. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Brady Anderson were at the end of the line, and Mike Mussina was bound for Yankee Stadium. There wasn't much to miss.

So it was that Tim Raines, Sr. and his son played side-by-side in the Orioles outfield, and I didn't even know about it.

Let's acknowledge this for what it was: a desperate grab at publicity by a terrible team (63-98). The younger Raines was by no means comparable to Ken Griffey, Jr., the only other man in major league history to team with his father. But still, the elder Raines was a true legend and absolutely should be elected to the Hall of Fame in the next few years. It would have been cool to have seen him play in Baltimore, even if it was at the end of his career and just for a few games (four, to be exact). At age 41, "Rock" didn't embarrass himself. He was 3-for-11 (.273) with a home run and five RBI for the Birds.

That's one of the great things about baseball. 162 games might be a long and sometimes monotonous commitment to make, but you never know what might unfold before your eyes...or what you might miss if you tune out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lance Cormier, 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH199

Even though I lost my taste for Topps' 2008 offerings after one too many cheap gimmicks (I'm just about done beating that dead horse, I promise), I am one of the maligned few who still appreciate the Updates and Highlights addendum to the base product. I appreciate it for the very same reason that most collectors probably roll their eyes and pass it by: the little guy.

We all know that stars and rookies are what sells. All of the smaller, more premium sets (Allen and Ginter, Goudey, Baseball Heroes) have no room for relievers and backup catchers and fourth outfielders, and these days, neither do the base products. Topps is down from the 1980s and 1990s standard of 792 cards to a more Donruss or Fleer-like 660. If you're a team collector as I have become, you see plenty of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, but little else.

Updates and Highlights is a 330-card supplement, taking the place of the old Traded sets. In addition to the handful of significant stars (Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia) and rookies (Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria) who warrant fresh cards, there's ample room for players number 20-25 on the roster, the role players who normally fall through the cracks. We all root for the underdogs, don't we? Personally, I'd like to see every player who suits up for the O's get his own card, and this is as close as we're going to get these days.

Lance Cormier pitched for his third team in five seasons in 2008. His lot in life is the unglamorous middle reliever, largely called upon to hold the fort and consume innings when the starting pitcher is knocked out of the box early. This happens in Baltimore more often than I would care to say. Lance was a pleasant surprise on the whole this year, particularly when you look at his career stats beforehand (14-18, 1.73 WHIP, 5.98 ERA). He went 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA and his first career save, a four-inning, one-hit gem against the Nationals. He was at his best in the first half, posting an ERA of 3.00 before injuries decimated the O's bullpen and put a greater burden on him in July and August.

It seems like every year, almost every spot on the Birds' pitching staff is up for grabs. Lance Cormier is certainly not assured one of those spots, and it's very possible that he won't get another card as an Oriole. But he's got this one, anyway.